Outpacing father time; age is merely a number to 88-year-old marathon runner Ruth Rothfarb
Holly G. Miller
Ruth Rothfarb has been racing against time since 1973. So far, it’s been no contest. Now in training for this month’s Boston Marathon, she seems to have beaten the clock. In June, she’ll celebrate her 89th birthday.
“Oh, I have the usual aches and pains,” she admits, “but I’ve learned to overcome them. Whenever I get achy, I go out and run as fast as I can. If I stand still, my arthritis will get me. I’d be crippled if I didn’t run. It makes me feel good, and my mind works better, too.”
She describes herself as “a wee bit under five feet,” which translates to 4′ 10 1/2″ in tube socks. Her weight, an agile 100 pounds, is down from the 157 of her pre-running days. She credits her trim physique to her exercise regimen plus a low-fat diet. She eats little meat and no butter, and she prefers a training table fare of fruit, veggies, fish, chicken, whole-grain cereals, and breads.
“I changed my diet entirely when I started running,” she says. “I don’t feel right out there if I gain weight. I’ve got to keep moving. I do a lot of stretching exercises, some aerobics, and of course, I put in my usual eight to ten miles of walking and running every day.”
She started running at age 72, inspired by her son Herb, who will join her in this year’s Boston race. Eight years later, in 1981, she entered her first marathon, in Ottawa, Canada, and completed all 26 miles and 385 yards of it. Just to prove the feat was no fluke, she’s added nine more since then.
Along the way, Ruth has collected an enviable assortment of hardware and honors. She has won the Kendall Women’s Classic and the Los Angeles Senior Olympics and placed fourth in the World Veteran’s Games, and once she ran two 10,000-meter faces on the same day-one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
What has been her favorite event? “The Bangkok Royal Marathon has been the highlight of my running so far,” she says, not ruling out future travel. “I’ve run in Canada, New Zealand, and all over the United States, but the three weeks in Thailand were the best. I had two chaperons who took me around; I even got to meet the princess.”
She made her trek to Bangkok at the request of the government in honor of the king’s 60th birthday. Ruth was touted as an example to the Thai people, who rarely live beyond age 65. Unfortunately, race day for the Royal Marathon was hot, and she failed to shave any seconds off her best time of 5:28:33. Perhaps she had peaked, she reasons. After all, you lose a lot of speed between age 80 and 86,” she says.
Vanity has never been Ruth’s problem, and she has little patience with older women who won’t bare their muscles in the name of exercise. Hardly a proponent of expensive running gear, she first competed in Bermuda shorts and tired tennis shoes. She has since moved up to sweats, tank tops, shorts, and a variety of running shoes. The important thing is not how you look when you run, but how you feel when you’re done, she stresses. She splits her daily workout into two segments: her morning begins with a six-mile jog, and her evening ends with a four-mile walk.
“I like all the activity and I love being with people,” she says. “I’ve always been an outdoor person, and I’ve been walking long distances all my life. When my husband would take the car, I’d do my errands on foot instead of riding the bus. Running was the logical next step.”
She plans to compete as long as her body allows, and for now, retirement seems to be miles down the road. Medals aside, this marathoner has mettle.
“And I’ve got good feet,” she concedes. “Knees, too.”
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